Pro-Palestinian protests

Paris police fire tear gas, water cannon at banned pro-Palestinian march

A demonstrator holding a Palesnian flag crosses a street during a banned protest in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Saturday, May, 15, 2021 in Paris. Marches in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being held Saturday in a dozen French cities, but the focus was on Paris, where riot police got ready as organizers said they would defy a ban on the protest. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
A demonstrator holding a Palesnian flag crosses a street during a banned protest in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Saturday, May, 15, 2021 in Paris. Marches in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being held Saturday in a dozen French cities, but the focus was on Paris, where riot police got ready as organizers said they would defy a ban on the protest. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) AP - Michel Euler

Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators have taken to the streets in France, with Paris police clashing with protesters marching in defiance of a ban. Rallies were held in several cities across the world in a show of solidarity with Palestinians after days of violence between Israel and Gaza – the worst since a 2014 war.

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Hundreds took part in authorised protests in other cities, including Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Toulouse, which took place peacefully. These echoed marches elsewhere across Europe and the world, including Germany, Spain, Australia, after days of conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza.

The interior ministry said around 3,500 turned out in Paris, most converging on the Barbès neighbourhood in the north of Paris amid a massive security presence involving some 4,200 officers.

Groups of several hundred people clashed with police, with 44 protesters arrested. One officer was injured during the scuffles. 

Walid Atallah, president of the Association of Palestinians in Ile-de-France, the region encompassing Paris, accused the government of inflaming tensions with its ban of the march.

"If there were genuine risks of public disorder, of serious problems, they would have prohibited it right away," he told a press conference.

"They banned it at the last minute – it's unacceptable," he said.

Officials said they feared a repeat of fierce clashes that erupted at a similar Paris march during the last war in 2014, when protesters took aim at synagogues and other Israeli and Jewish targets.

"We all remember that extremely troubling protest where terrible phrases like 'death to Jews' were yelled," Mayor Anne Hidalgo told AFP on Friday, welcoming a "wise" decision to ban the march.

Several groups were to take part in the Paris demo, including anti-fascist associations, the citizens' activist group Attac and the far-left New Anti-Capitalist party.

A lawyer for the groups, Sefen Guez Guez, denounced the police ban as "disproportionate" and "politically motivated".

Another group hoping to stage a pro-Palestinian protest Saturday in Paris filed an appeal of a similar ban with the State Council, France's highest administrative court.

Repeat of unrest?

The protest had originally been called to mark the Nakba, as Palestinians call the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948, which turned hundreds of thousands into refugees.

But a Paris court upheld the ban Friday, saying the "international and domestic context" justified fears of unrest "that could be as serious or even worse than in 2014".

Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin also called for similar bans in other cities if necessary, and officials have prohibited marches in Nice and some Paris suburbs.

"We don't want scenes of violence, we don't want to import a conflict onto French soil, we don't want eruptions of hate on our streets," government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Saturday in Marseille.

Critics accuse France of being too favourable toward Israel in the latest conflict, which has seen a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza that has been met with Israeli artillery and air strikes.

The ban has caused a split among French politicians, with President Emmanuel Macron's centre-right party and the right-wing opposition supporting the move, but leftists calling it an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.

Macron's office said he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, offering his "condolences for the victims of the rocket fire claimed by Hamas and other terrorist groups".

The statement said Macron urged a return to peace and "his concern about the civilian population in Gaza".

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, with an estimated five to six million people.

It also has the largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States.

(with wires)

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